Development Law Service Newsletter - September 2016 - #3


Integrating Human Rights into Sectoral Legislation 

In September 2015, the Heads of State and Government and High Representatives (“HSG”) meeting at the UN Headquarters adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)1. They resolved  

“between now and 2030, to end poverty and hunger everywhere; to combat inequalities within and among countries; to build peaceful, just and inclusive societies; to protect human rights and promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls; and to ensure the lasting protection of the planet and its natural resources […] to create conditions for sustainable, inclusive and sustained economic growth, shared prosperity and decent work for all, taking into account different levels of national development and capacities” (paragraph 3).

In so doing, the HSG made a series of commitments to strive to achieve certain goals, including to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture (Goal 2). They acknowledged “the essential role of national parliaments through their enactment of legislation […] and their role in ensuring accountability for the effective implementation” of the commitments (paragraph 45). They further recognized the role of intergovernmental organizations such as FAO in supporting the achievement of sustainable development (paragraph 46).

The 2030 Agenda, thus, underlines the centrality of respect for human rights to the achievement of the SDGs, a number of which are directly related to the mandate of FAO. The work of FAO has various human rights dimensions, including the right to adequate food, gender equality, decent work, tenure rights, indigenous peoples’ rights and procedural rights such as those relating to participation, non-discrimination and accountability. Human rights are actually recognized as guiding principles in the country programming and project cycle documents of FAO2 and in international instruments developed by the Organization.3 FAO seeks to mainstream the afore-mentioned rights in its multifaceted normative, analytical and operational activities, including in its policy and legislative support to Member States.

In this context, it is appropriate to consider how human rights standards can be embedded in legislation that apply to the sectors in which FAO works.

Legislation in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors generally focusses on the management and sustainable use of resources and production of commodities within the sectors. On the other hand, generic labour and human rights legislation, which falls within the primary mandate of other organizations, are wanting in terms of reflecting the special characteristics and circumstances of those who work in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors. This is, however, not to ignore the fact that a number of international legally binding and non-legally binding instruments and some domestic sectoral laws incorporate provisions on tenure rights, safety at work, gender equality and training and professional requirements for people working in the areas covered by the respective legislation. Nevertheless, sectoral legislation could do much better in terms of the protection of human rights in general, and labour rights and gender equality in particular.

There are two possible approaches to address regulatory issues relating to the protection of human rights within the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors: (1) integrating human rights, gender equality and labour standards in sectoral legislative frameworks, and/or (2) developing sector-specific human rights and labour legislation.

The first approach follows existing sectoral legislative support work with heightened attention to the rights of people who derive their livelihoods from the sectors governed by the legislation. This approach builds, for example, on the attention given to the right to food in food security and nutrition legislation, to gender equality, inter alia, in land laws, to safety at work in some forestry and fisheries legislation, to personal protective equipment in pesticides legislation, to training and competency requirements in veterinary laws and to procedural rights in many food and agriculture-related legislation.

The second approach has been used in circumstances where human rights, gender or labour issues arise and/or need to be addressed in specific sectoral contexts. Although it is not commonly pursued, this approach provides by far the best opportunity to secure comprehensive legal protection of the rights of people working in the sector concerned.

Under the second approach, some countries have in recent years adopted legislation specifically governing labour and human rights in the fisheries sector.4 These regulatory frameworks have largely resulted from broader efforts to deal with human trafficking, child labour, forced labour and other sub-standard labour practices in some businesses engaged in harvesting and processing fisheries products. The legal instruments provide for detailed lists of internationally recognized labour and human rights standards and put in place inter-sectoral and inter-institutional supervisory mechanisms for the implementation of the standards. Such legislation provides the all-important framework to address the human rights of people deriving their livelihoods from the fisheries sector, including within efforts to counter and eliminate illegal fishing.

The protection of human rights in sectoral legislation means that more focus will be brought to the human element in the management of resources, as well as the production and processing of products from the sectors. These legislative developments in the fisheries sector could be replicated in other sectoral and geographic contexts. Doing so will further bring labour and human rights issues squarely within the definition of “legality” in international initiatives relating to business in agricultural, forestry and fisheries products. 5

Bearing in mind the 2030 Agenda, mechanisms to entrench human rights in the laws regulating the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors – such as those options briefly explored in this piece – should be applied systematically in the context of legislative reform processes. Technical assistance provided by FAO – including LEGN – should integrate the fundamental principles and objectives of the 2030 Agenda, including those relating to human rights.

1. United Nations. 2015. Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Resolution 70/1 adopted by the General Assembly on 25 September 2015, 70th Session, Agenda items 15 and 116. UN Doc. A/RES/70/1. New York. (available at http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/70/1&Lang=E).

2. FAO. 2012. Guide to the formulation of the Country Programming Framework (CPF). (available at ftp://ftp.fao.org/TC/CPF/Guidelines/CPFGuidelines.pdf) and FAO. 2012. Guide to the Project Cycle, Quality for Results. Rome. (available at http://www.fao.org/docrep/016/ap105e/ap105e.pdf).

3. For example, see FAO. 2012. Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security. Rome. (available at http://www.fao.org/docrep/016/i2801e/i2801e.pdf), and FAO. 2015. Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication. Rome. (available at http://www.fao.org/3/a-i4356e.pdf).

4. Two examples are: Republic of Indonesia. 2015. Sistem Dan Sertifikasi Hak Asasi Manusia Pada Usaha Perikanan [Regulation of the Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries of the Republic of Indonesia on the Certification System and Human Rights in the Fishing Business]. NOMOR 35/PERMEN-KP/2015, December 2015. (available at http://infohukum.kkp.go.id/index.php/hukum/download/783/?type_id=1); Republic of Philippines. 2016. Rules and Regulations Governing the Working and Living Conditions of Fishers on Board Fishing Vessels Engaged on Commercial Fishing Operation. Department of Labour and Employment, Order No. 156-16, May 2016. (available at http://www.dole.gov.ph/files/Dept%20Order%20No_%20156-16.pdf).

5. For example, international frameworks that are put in place to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and initiatives that are meant to ensure forest law enforcement, governance and trade.

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